Loyalty vs. Stubbornness

It’s a rainy Sunday evening in 1996.  A baby is crying.  A man is trying to watch a football game.  Upstairs, a woman is making a late dinner to accommodate the man and his football schedule.  The man attempts to soothe the baby.  He picks her up.  She continues to wail.  He pats her back.  No change in mood.  He paces.  She bawls. He turns toward the screen, straining to hear the announcers.  He’s wearing his team jersey and his good luck charm, a ridiculous hat with burgundy and gold fake dreadlocks, his team colors.  Suddenly his team scores.  They’re in the lead.  He whoops.  On the TV he hears the band strike up the team’s fight song.  The man sings along.  “Hail to the Redskins.  Hail Vic-to- ry…” It’s a tune he’s sung with gusto since he was a young child.  “…Braves on the warpath/ Fight for old D.C.”  To his surprise, the baby stops crying.  He continues his triumphant march, chanting the ridiculous song, his contented 5-month-old resting her head on his shoulder.  It’s a rainy Sunday evening in 1996, and all seems right in the world.  A wholesome harmony of family, sports, music, and tradition.

Now it’s 2021, and I’m having a sports crisis. You can stop reading if sports bores you.  As with many of my problems, this is a classic first world sort, so you can stop reading if you’ve grown tired of first world complaints.  Sometimes I prefer to think of it as a problem with insignificant consequences, but I’m beginning to fear that that’s a rationalization.  This started as a slice of life, but it may turn into more of a therapy session.  You can stop reading if you dislike eavesdropping on other people’s internal conversations.

This year, the World Series pits the Atlanta Braves against the Houston Astros.  I don’t have a horse in this race.  My team finished in last place again.  In general, I have a knack for rooting for teams that…well…suck.  But that’s not the problem I’m talking about today.  Some have characterized this World Series as a match-up between good and evil.  The Atlanta team is the “good” and the Astros, who cheated their way to a World Series victory in 2017, are the evil.  It’s fun when sports boil down to that choice. But finding the good side is getting more complicated. Some observers have pointed out that the Braves have failings as well.  Their name, for one, makes a mascot out of Native Americans.  Other teams have found a way to change their offensive names and still maintain a following.  The Atlanta fans also do a tomahawk chop and chant that many Native Americans find demeaning.  They pointed this out in 1999, the last time the Atlanta team was in the World Series.  Twenty-two years later, the fans aren’t any more sensitive to the feelings of the people they supposedly honor with the “Braves” name.  And then there’s the fact that they aren’t really the Atlanta team anymore.  A few years back, the team moved to a new stadium in the suburbs.  One local politician stressed that they wanted to bring the product closer to the suburbanites rather than bring suburbanites into the city.  Yeah.  So, I’m having trouble seeing this as a “good vs evil” series.  Both sides are tarnished…but I’m still watching.

So how does this affect me?  I mentioned that I don’t really root for either of these teams.  Nor do I root for the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, which for ten years covered up the fact that one of its coaches sexually assaulted one of their own players.   Phew.  Glad I don’t root for that team.

No, but a team I grew up rooting for has been making its own news lately.  Yes, they did finally agree to drop their offensive name.  It took years for them to acknowledge that “Redskins” was actually a slur used by people who forcibly displaced Native Americans from their lands, but maybe it’s not quite a noble gesture when the only thing that moved them to make the change was the fact that their two biggest sponsors said they could no longer associate with the team.  Thank you Nike and FedEx.  I’ve stopped wearing their merchandise.  I’ve stopped singing their fight song.  But I haven’t stopped watching their games.

Believe it or not, the name controversy is not the reason they’re in the news these days.  I don’t know if the new reason is worse or just equally icky.  It’s hard to evaluate when it’s between racism and sexism, bigotry or misogyny.  Apparently, the team’s  front office has condoned, ignored, or abetted some really awful behavior for many years.  Within the last two years, more than a dozen women who used to work for the team have come forward with stories of mistreatment, discrimination, and abuse.  Under pressure, the team agreed to have an independent investigator look into the “culture” problem.  The investigation happened, but no written report was made, and the NFL won’t release the findings.  The NFL fined the owner $10 million.  Yes, that’s a lot to me, but I don’t think that really pinched the man with the yacht, the private jet, and the football franchise valued by Forbes at $4.2 billion.  In fifth grade terms we’d say, “Umm, ten million goes into 4.2 billion 420 times.”  He got his wrist slapped.  Recently people have been pressuring the NFL to release some of the emails that the investigator secured.  A few of them were leaked last month, and the content was so offensive that a coach for another team had to resign.  He had been emailing with the president of the Washington football team.  People are pretty sure the offensiveness wasn’t just going in one direction during these conversations.  The NFL refuses to release the emails.

In writing all this, I’m seeing one rational conclusion:  Don’t follow professional sports anymore.  Or, at the very least, don’t root for this team anymore.  Don’t watch their games.  Certainly don’t advertise their brand by purchasing jerseys or hats or socks or Christmas tree ornaments (Yes, I own several).  That seems clear and rational.  

But what about my irrational side?  The part of me that remembers caring so much about their team that I papered my bedroom walls with posters of the players.  The part of me that got so excited about games that I would wear their jersey to bed for good luck.  The part of me that would sulk for hours if they lost…a pathetic trend that even lasted into my married days, when my wife would make “consolation custard” to get me out of my funk.  I know, embarrassing.  Once I got mad at her for starting the custard before the game was officially over.  “They could still have come back!!!”  Even more embarrassing.

Now, though, I’m not sure how this organization can come back from their deficits.  Yes, they’ve fired their president and hired someone who says he’s going to clean up the culture.  Yes, next year they’ll unveil their new name and logo.  Yes, the owner has stepped back and put his wife in charge of daily oversight.  But isn’t all that just to preserve a $4.2 billion dollar asset?

I think, in writing this, that I’ve convinced myself.  My old allegiances and traditions were part of my childhood, part of a blissfully ignorant past.  It’s time for me to grow up and move on from a stubborn loyalty to a toxic team.  

It looks like I’ll be needing a new Sunday diversion.  Maybe I’ll learn how to make my own consolation custard.

7 thoughts on “Loyalty vs. Stubbornness

  1. True confessions: I am not a sports fan but I live with an extreme one, and I am the daughter of one who rooted for the team now known as Washington and, well, the Braves. And so I can relate to your long-ago enthusiasm; it is part of the backdrop of my own life. I read every word of your post and absorbed the mourning, the utter disgust, the determination to rise above…forgive me for chuckling at consolation custard, especially before a game had ended! As always, your wit shines through, even while grappling with difficult realizations.You leave my curiosity piqued: what Sunday diversion is waiting in the wings for its moment to come onstage??

    Like

  2. Oh man, this is *tough*. I have to agree with your conclusion, but I empathize with the difficulty of giving it up. Still, the culture of the whole sport is pretty awful – and don’t even get me started on the “tomahawk chop”. Some of my family members attended one of the games & posted videos of themselves. Made me sick to watch. The times they are a-changing. Good luck with your Sundays. Knitting is nice…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I understand. I gave up watching football over a decade ago when the concussion crisis became a thing. I was already getting burned out due to the oozing of games into more and more days of the week. Amazing how much more of a life I have! I’ve never been a baseball fan, but have decided that most competitive professional sports have dark underbellies … think women’s gymnastics or soccer just to name two that even the gender playing field for scandal.

    Liked by 1 person

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